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DISTIME Ageing with disabilities in past, present and future societies: Risks, loads and later life outcomes

Research project There is limited knowledge about how disability affects human life and society despite that people will increasingly experience disability in the future due to longer life expectancy. The DISTIME project provides knowledge on the implications of ageing with disabilities examining Swedish populations from the 1800s to the present, even into the 21st century. It also uncovers how people with disabilities experience their ageing and future today as well as mainstream views of disability in fiction.

In Europe today disabled people make up about 65-80 million people (10-12%). Little is known about how disability affects life and ageing despite the fact that we will increasingly face disabilities in the future due to longer life expectancy. The project examines disability risks across life and how disability shapes health outcomes into old age. These risks and outcomes are investigated in Swedish populations from the past to the future. Present-day perceptions and experiences of disability are also explored. The interdisciplinary approach and findings are unique in scope.

Head of project

Project overview

Project period:

2020-01-01 2026-12-31

Participating departments and units at Umeå University

Centre for Demographic and Ageing Research (CEDAR), Department of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies, Department of Social Work

Research area

Demography, History, Media and communications, Public health and health care science, Social work, Statistics

External funding

Marcus and Amalia Wallenberg Foundation

Project description

Today, disabled people make up about 1.5 million in Sweden and in the EU countries some 65–80 million. There is poor scientific knowledge about how disabilities affect human life and society despite the fact that we will increasingly experience disabilities in the future due to longer life expectancy. Large proportions of disabled people also reach old age nowadays due to medical advances. The DISTIME project provides knowledge on the implications of ageing with disabilities examining Swedish populations from the 1800s to the present. Knowing this, enables the project to estimate how disabilities will develop in 21st-century populations. It also investigates how people with disabilities today think and talk about their ageing and future wellbeing, as well as mainstream views of disability in fiction and popular culture.

A multidisciplinary approach researching three themes

The DISTIME project is unique in scope regarding the societal time and individual lifetime it examines by researching three themes:

THEME 1: Disability transitions and risks – past and present patterns

While the determinants of diseases are considerably studied in research, there is scant knowledge about disability risks. This makes Theme 1 address these questions:

  • WHY disabilities and WHO? What risk factors exist and have been associated with acquiring different types of disabilities from young to adult age and do these factors afflict certain groups of people?

THEME 2: Disability across life and outcomes up until old age – past and present patterns

The health outcomes of bringing disabilities from young to old age are under-researched. This theme makes up for this overlook by answering the below questions:

  • WHAT health outcomes and WHY? What are the health outcomes in old age when becoming disabled in young or adult life and are these outcomes shaped by disability types and loads gained over lifetime?

THEME 3: Disability developments over time into the future – comparisons, projections, imaginations

Theme 3 includes a temporal extension of Themes 1-2 in retrospective as well as prospective respect to answer these questions:

  • WHEN and WHERE? Do the disability risks and loads and the long-term outcomes differ in populations across time and space and what disability patterns will the future hold?


The DISTIME project brings together a team of scholars representing different disciplines and skills in methods. Statistical examination of Swedish population registers from c. 1800 until today show evidence of disability risks and what ageing with disabilities imply. Qualitative analysis reveal how disabled people living today experience this ageing and look upon their future wellbeing, and how popular culture and fiction depict disabilities. Supportive structures regarding labour, family, leisure and health care are researched with mixed methods. Such structures may limit negative effects from disability of importance to people’s wellbeing in later life and in future society. The findings will yield significant interest globally and aid governing bodies to maximize future health care structures for all ageing.

External funding


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Latest update: 2022-04-05